Halloween has long passed, but a certain autumn monster is still lurking: flu season. Its fever-lined tendrils and coughing disposition have yet to grasp many Southern Nevada victims, so experts say now is the best time for a shot of the antidote, er, vaccine.
Flu season in Southern Nevada usually peaks in February, but there have been some years that it’s shown up as early as October. Generally speaking, it’s entirely unpredictable in form and fashion.
“We try to predict it every single year. It’s one of the most difficult things to do, so we take our best guess,” says Brian Labus, senior epidemiologist with the Southern Nevada Health District.
Each year the flu affects nearly 20 percent of the population. The 2010-11 flu vaccine protects against three strains of influenza, including the 2009 H1N1 strain. Last flu season, H1N1 was discovered too late to be integrated into the vaccine, so a separate shot was required for those seeking protection from the virus.
Experts predicted that last year would be a particularly destructive flu season because of H1N1. That turned out not to be the case.
“The [2009-2010] flu season itself was an early flu season, but other than that it was a pretty typical flu season,” Labus says. “A lot of people get sick with a more mild disease like we see every year. Nothing like what was projected early on when we just discovered the virus.”
Labus says that because the strains circulating this year could be the same as last year, we could see a mild season because we’ll have a fair amount of immunity built up. But, again, the flu is unpredictable and there are no guarantees.
“The strains could always change, so it’s really difficult to see what the flu’s going to do each year,” he says.
Labus emphasizes that there’s really only one way to prevent getting sick. “The best way to prevent the flu is to get the flu shot. That’s going to give the best protection against it. Beyond that, just the normal things you would do to keep yourself well, including making sure you get plenty of rest and take care of yourself, but also washing your hands and if you do become sick covering your mouth when you cough so you don’t spread it to other people,” he says.
If you do come down with the flu, plan on being sick for at least a week, he says. “It’s really a kind of serious disease. You wind up with a fever, cough, sore throat and you’re just generally miserable for quite some time,” he says.
The populations that should give particular consideration to getting a flu shot are those with weakened immune systems, including children (who must be older than 6 months to get the vaccine) and the elderly.
The Southern Nevada Health District’s public health centers are offering the flu vaccine 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at Ravenholt Public Health Center, East Las Vegas Public Health Center and Henderson Public Health Center. To learn more go to SouthernNevadaHealthDistrict.org, or call 759-1000.